Tag Archives: numbing pain

30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 9: #numbing #dissociation #addiction #pain #compartmentalization


Welcome to Day 9 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.” Today’s quote is a good one and so simple that I feel it needs no commentary.

Here it is:

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.
― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

It reminds me a great deal of the phrase that a cancer-surviving friend once said to me in the midst of her battle, “If I blame God or ask ‘why me?’ for the so-called bad things in my life, like this cancer, then in all fairness, I have to also ask ‘why me?’ for the so-called good things in my life, like this moment.”

This Brown quote is akin to the myth of “spot reduction” in weight loss. Anyone who knows anything about weight loss will tell you, in all honesty and veracity, that there is no such thing as spot reduction. Everything in your body is interrelated. You simply can’t focus all your energy on making your hips smaller because it’s not possible. You can make your hips stronger by focusing the work on them, but that won’t make them smaller.

It’s like the common misconception between fat loss and muscle gain. They are coincidental; they are not the same material. Losing fat is losing fat. It doesn’t convert into muscle.

I’m bored. You?

Back to Brown.

Our emotions and sensitivities are not like a fuse box (er, “circuit breaker” for those of you born in the 20th century). You can’t “take out” an emotion by unplugging it, i.e., getting hammered, high, pissed, manically happy… it’s uh, totes improbs, dude.

It’s like trying to let only one part of the ocean get you wet.

It’s like trying to breathe only one part of the air.

It’s like trying to stand in only one part of the sunshine.

It’s like trying to taste only one part of the lasagne.

It’s like trying to bleed only a certain part of your blood.


You numb sad, you numb happy by default.

My dad, I love him.

Get this. He said to me a couple weeks ago about Mom’s death and witnessing my loss of composure during a Mass of Remembrance about a month ago, that “I’m done crying. I’ve cried all I’m going to.”

And I’m like this:


come again?
(© quickmeme.com)

Scratch what I attributed above to my dad.

Rewind the tape. Start over.

A man who is just like my dad but who apparently came down from another planet and replaced him entirely with this person said this,

“Yeah. I’ve cried all I’m going to. I can’t have what happens to me when I cry happen to me again. It feels so intense, like I get all warm and my throat tightens and it feels like I’m having a heart attack. It’s like a sympathetic storm.”

Uhhhh? It’s like a Whatawhetic What? I googled it.

Sympathetic Storms are a common complication following traumatic brain injury and is associated with a set of distressing and uncomfortable symptoms, including elevated body temperature, increased heart-rate and perspiration.

Oh. Traumatic brain injury. That explains it.

Catharsis. That’s what he felt. This alien from another planet.

“So you just felt, sadness, and intense emotions that weren’t rage and fear.”

“Well, ok. It was like a heart attack.”

Here’s me:

(this is my Murph)

(this is my Murphy)

“I’m listening.” I said, to this alien who is not my father. (Just so we’re setting the record straight.)

“I can’t do that anymore. I won’t. I will focus on the other stuff. The happy stuff. The times we had,” said this man alien who didn’t know my mother at all.

Mmmmmk. It explains vast oceans of behavior to me.

I’ll stop at that.

Some people like to numb with drugs or booze. Some like to numb with running or porn. Others like to numb with food or gambling or the internet or writing… (slightly raises hand — if I weren’t writing, I’d not be online. That’s the truth, but I know I need to find a way to divide it).

This whole theme goes back to “owning your story” quote of Brown’s that I wrote about back on Day 1. You have to own the whole thing — all of it.

You can’t be a little pregnant.

You can’t have just pulled part of the trigger.

You can’t have thrown just a little of the water in her face.

I could go on.

When I was younger, about 16, I was all manner of rage. I thought I was just being clever, a smart-ass, a hot shot.

My friends and I were all hanging out at our super cool suburban cul-de-sac one summer night. A boy I liked had brought me a long-sleeved t-shirt from a beach trip he took. My younger brother who was likely 11 or 12 stole it from my closet. It wasn’t two days old.

He wore it right in front of me and my friends. I let it go, because I wanted to be that cool.

Then he sat down with me and my friends. Major boundary cross, dude, I thought to myself.

Then he started to talk to my friends. I’m gonna stay cool, be cool, be cool.

Then he started to make fun of me in front of my friends. He said, “Molly is so fat, that when she sits around the house, she SITS AROUND THE HOUSE…”  and he made this Jabba-the-hut face to pantomime me.

I’ve had a lifetime of problems, but being a healthy weight was never one of them. I’ve been blessed. I get it. Move along.

He said it again. My friends laughed. The male friend laughed.

In my mind, when I visualized it, I didn’t make contact with my brother’s face.

In my mind, my bare foot just glanced his jaw. Never touched it.

In reality, my bare foot kicked the crap out of his face and blood went everywhere.

All over my new shirt too.

“Youuuuuu! Waaaaaah!!! MaaaaaaaaaaammmmmM! Maaaaaaaaaammmmmmm! Daaaaaaaayyyyaaaaaaad!! Maaaaaaaaagggghhhhhhaaaaahhahaahahaaaaaaagggggggghhhhh Myyyyyyyy faaaaaaaaaace!!!!”

My friends scattered like rats on a sinking ship. They looked at me in horror.

In my mind I didn’t make contact…

“My shirt! You asshole! My shirt!” I screeched. (It wasn’t about the shirt.)

He took off.

I took off after him.

He ran up the street.

I ran up the street.

He’s screaming.

I’m screaming.

He ran into the house.

I ran away from the house.

OMAIGAAAD! I got in SO MUCH TROUBLE for that entire thing. It’s like I tell my boys — presence. We must be present and reeeeeeeeally work hard to not take physical action. If my dad had said to me what I say to my kids all the time, “You’re picking on an 11 year old? Are you insane?! Have you lost your mind?”

But … my shirt.

No one wanted to hear my side.

He took my shirt.

My brother’s face was bleeding. He needed five?

He made fun of me.

Stitches? Maybe seven?

In front of my friends. I didn’t do anything.

I dunno. I’m sure I did something to egg him on too. I’m sure I said something snarky about him being there.


But the point I’m trying to make with this is this: I didn’t kick him a little. I didn’t injure him only a little. To this day, and we’ve talked about it and he’s one of my biggest cheerleaders, I have atoned for that incident. He knows now I never ever meant to hurt him.

Which means this: we might never ever mean to numb the good stuff, but we will when we numb the bad stuff.

We can’t numb. We must go through it. All of it. All of the ugly crying and the entire story. If we don’t, then we leak. 

It’s like how it goes in We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. How did the family solve the challenges? They couldn’t go over! They couldn’t go under! They had to go through them. (I just noticed there’s no Mom in this story — she must be napping.)

Thank you.